What makes an anime feminist? Is it a simple formula that checks enough pro-women boxes to outweigh the number of anti-women boxes? Is it a declaration from a trusted Feminist™?
When you hear someone describe an anime as “Feminist”, that person probably means that they think it is an anime that a feminist might enjoy consuming. As opposed to it meaning that an anime is somehow contributing to ending sexism.
Feminism is a philosophy and movement within the world’s academic and sociopolitical spheres. It’s not a label to be attached to fictional works as popular internet opinions see fit.
There are a lot of reasons people are eager to slap “Feminist” onto their favorite media. It gives a sense of moral superiority, but it also gives a sense of relief that implies examining one’s morals is a finite process. It’s like saying “Feminism won this round. It’s over. We can all go home.” In other words, it’s easy. And if there’s any word to describe the road to women’s equality, that word is NOT easy.
What’s hard about judging something like anime for its contributions to feminism, is the sheer lack of anime with women at the creative helm.
Anime, like any other art form, can be feminist in the sense that it can be created by and for women with the intent of expressing something about the female experience.
So anime can do this, but has it?
I can not find evidence of a single anime made entirely by and for women. Even if there is one I’m overlooking, it wouldn’t balance against the massive amount of anime made solely by and for men over the past half century.
The number of women in the anime industry is slowly climbing, and more female driven projects are coming to light. According to an interview with Cayla Coats, an Editorial Programming Coordinator at Crunchyroll, the show Urahara has an “unprecedented” amount of women on it’s staff, including the director, main writer and character designer. But the other major elements of the series like storyboards, music, mechanical design and production are being handled by men. So it’s nice to see a project where the lead staff is mostly female (and that’s defiantly a step in the right direction), but I wouldn’t describe Urahara as a feminist work made exclusively by and for women.
The miracle of an all female team in a field that’s been male-dominated for as long as TV anime production has, seems to be a lot to ask for at this point in time. But it could happen if we stop valuing fictitious women over real ones.
If a real woman has no creative influence in a project, then there’s not much to talk about when it comes to how much a fictitious woman depicted in that project represents the struggles of real women.
Helen McCarthy makes an excellent argument about this in her lecture “From Nausicaä to Ashitaka: the development of the heroic ideal in the 20th-century works of Hayao Miyazaki”, where she points out how Ghibli films are praised to no end for their strong female characters, yet the studio has never produced a film with a female director.
When female characters are written by a man, discussion around how such characters represent actual females tends to ring hollow, even when those female characters are widely beloved.
Over-focusing on characters rather than creators is like treating symptoms without searching for a cure. The issue isn’t that there aren’t enough well-written female characters. The issue is that there aren’t enough women creating characters of their own.
Women’s equality doesn’t look like a world where fan service on TV is outlawed and every anime produced has an equal ratio of male to female characters. It looks like a world where real women have the same number of opportunities to tell their stories as men do and are paid the same as men for the work involved.
Feminism is an ongoing conversation about the struggles of real women. So if we’re going to talk about anime and feminism then we have to talk about the women creating it. We have to talk about the women making strides in the anime industry and the women opening doors for other women to do the same.
There’s no point in calling an anime, or any other piece of art, feminist if it was made by and for mostly men, because feminism is by and for women.